by Loui Tucker
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This article appeared originally in the December 2014 issue of Let's Dance!
I have been exchanging ideas with some dance leaders who organize dancing around special events. They call their events barn dances or family dances or community dances, sometimes "one-night-stands."They hold them once or twice a year, sometimes once a quarter, but seldom more often. They sometimes (but not always) feature live bands, and showcase follow-able or easy-to-learn dances with interesting music and some sort of a "hook," with an emphasis on generating smiles. My colleagues report that these dance events are often very well attended, often attracting over a hundred participants. Some of these same dance leaders are also involved in weekly dance clubs or classes, so I asked them if they saw much overflow from the special dance events into their weekly classes. The answer has been "No, not so much."
Which made me wonder "Why not?" After all, if we're introducing novices or infrequent dancers to the joys of dancing, why wouldn't they be interested enough to join a local group that meets once a week? If it's fun to do once or twice a year, wouldn't doing it once a week be a great addition to your life?
It brought to mind a conversation I had with Don and Maxine Burnham who have organized folk dancing at the Co-op Camp Sierra for decades (See accompanying article). Their experience was similar: the campers who enjoyed dancing every night at Co-op Camp Sierra, who came back year after year to participate rarely, if ever, showed up at local dance clubs, despite being encouraged and given plenty of information. "I just don't have time in my busy schedule," they would say. "The local class meets on a night that isn't good for me," and "I went once, but it wasn't like the dances we do at Camp in the summer," were typical excuses.
Let me take a brief detour (I'll be back on track in a paragraph or two) to talk about Christmas and Easter. (If you're Jewish, translate those holidays into Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and you'll get my drift.) Have you heard of CEOs? CEO stands for Christmas and Easter Only. It's a nickname they give people who only show up at church for the Big Holidays. Church leaders spend a lot of time and energy encouraging, cajoling, and coaxing members who attend services infrequently to become more involved in their religious community.
"Join the Ladies Auxiliary," they say. "Get your children involved in the Youth Group. The choir could use you! Come to a Bible study group. Attend services a few times a months." Sure, it's nice that you donate and pray at home, but few things make a priest/minister/rabbi glow with excitement more than hearing about some new member who has started participating on a weekly basis and is enjoying it!
And those same churchgoers who can't make the leap from once-or-twice-a-year to once-a-week respond with excuses that will sound very familiar: "There is so much to do on the weekends that I can't seem to block out time to go to services." "I really mean to, but something always seems to come up." "I just don't have time during the week to add another activity."
Now back to folk dancing. Aren't we in the same boat? We who attend folk dance classes once or twice a week have built our schedules around them. The other dancers in the class have become our friends and we often see them outside of dancing. Sound familiar? It's not very different from those churchgoers!
We hold free New Dancer Festivals to try to bring in new dancers. These event are really no different from those barn dances my colleagues hold once-or-twice a year. We have had only moderate success moving dancers from the "occasional" column into the "frequently" or "once-a-week" columns in our ledgers. Again, it's not so different from a church that holds a membership drive or carnival or potluck supper to try to attract new congregants.
So here we are. We understand the issue, we see the problem, but we don't have any answers - yet. I'm working on that part.
I wish I had some personal experience on which to draw. I went from once-a-week to six-times-a-week in less than two months (I used to joke that the only reason I didn't dance seven nights a week was because I had to do my laundry) and never went back to fewer than three times a week.
I suspect we need to talk with some of the people who did make the transition from once-or-twice-a-year to a weekly commitment. If you are reading this and you are one of those dancers, would you care to share your story?